A Georgia grand jury has returned indictments against former president Donald Trump and a wide swath of his confidantes and allies who prosecutors allege to have participated in a criminal enterprise with the goal of overturning the disgraced ex-president’s 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.
Grand jurors returned indictments against Mr Trump and 18 other defendants late Monday after hearing from a number of key witnesses in the long-running Georgia election probe, including Gabe Sterling, who served as a top manager in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office in late 2020, and Geoff Duncan, the state’s former Republican lieutenant governor.
Although the courthouse closes normally around 5pm ET, authorities reportedly asked grand jurors to stay until approximately 9pm to finish voting on what a cover sheet delivered to Judge Robert McBurney indicated to be 10 separate indictments.
But the 98-page document unsealed later Monday evening was the only set of charges pertaining to Mr Trump and his co-defendants, a group which includes his former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows; ex-New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani; attorneys Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powel; ex-law professor John Eastman; Trump campaign lawyer Ken Cheseboro; and former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark.
Mr Trump himself faces 13 criminal counts, including one he shares with every other defendant: A violation of Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, which charges those who take actions in service of a criminal enterprise.
He also faces 12 other charges, including: Conspiracy to impersonate a public officer, two counts of conspiracy to commit forgery, two counts of conspiracy to make false statements under oath, two counts of conspiracy to file false documents, two counts of solicitation of a public officer, filing false documents, conspiracy to solicit false statements, and making false statements.
At a late-night press conference to announce the charges, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appeared before reporters flanked by the prosecutors who have worked on the two-year-long election probe.
“Today ... a Fulton County grand jury returned a true bill of indictment, charging 19 individuals with violations of Georgia Law arising from a criminal conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in this state,” she said before listing the names and stating that each was charged with violating the state’s wide-ranging Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (RICO) statute, which is itself patterned after a Nixon-era federal law passed to combat the Italian-American Mafia crime syndicates.
Ms Willis added that each defendant’s RICO charge accused them of “participation in a criminal enterprise in Fulton County, Georgia, and elsewhere, to accomplish the illegal goal of allowing Donald J. Trump to seize the presidential term of office, beginning on January 20, 2021”.
“Specifically, the participants ... took various actions in Georgia and elsewhere to block the counting of the votes of the presidential electors who were certified as the winners of Georgia’s 2020 general election. As you examine the indictment, you will see acts that are identified as overt acts and those that are identified as predicate acts, sometimes called acts of racketeering activity. overt acts are not necessarily crimes under Georgia law in isolation, but are alleged to be acts taken in furtherance of the conspiracy. Many occurred in Georgia, and some occurred in other jurisdictions and are included, because the grand jury believes they were part of the illegal effort to overturn the results of Georgia’s 2020 presidential election,” she said.
Ms Willis, who said each defendant has until 12.00 pm on Friday 25 August to voluntarily surrender to Georgia authorities and told reporters she would like to try the defendants “within the next six months,” had long been understood to be intending to bring a RICO prosecution against the former president.
“I make decisions in this office based on the facts and the law. The law is completely nonpartisan. That's how decisions are made in every case,” Ms Willis said.
In the indictment, she follows through on that intention by stating that Mr Trump and his co-defendants “while associated with ane enterprise, unlawfully conspired and endeavored to conduct and participate in, directly and indirectly, such enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity in violation of” the RICO law.
“Trump and the other defendants charged in this Indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump. That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the state of Georgia, and in other states,” prosecutors said.
They further allege that Mr Trump and co-defendants “constituted a criminal organization whose members and associates engaged in various related criminal activities including, but not limited to, false statements and writings, impersonating a public officer, forgery, filing false documents, influencing witnesses, computer theft, computer trespass, computer invasion of privacy, conspiracy to defraud the state, acts involving theft, and perjury.”
The former president is charged with violating Georgia’s Rico law, Solicitation of Violation of Oath by Public Officer, Conspiracy To Commit Impersonating a Public Officer, Conspiracy To Commit Forgery in the First Degree, Conspiracy To Commit False Statements and Writings, Filing False Documents and other charges stemming from his efforts to pressure Georgia officials into fraudulently reversing his loss and his role in a scheme which purported to submit what were forged electoral college certificates to the National Archives.
Other charges referenced in the charging document include Impersonating a Public Officer and Criminal Attempt to Commit Influencing Witnesses.
The grand jury which returned the indictments against Mr Trump and his co-defendants was the second to hear evidence against the ex-president as part of a long-running probe which Ms Willis first announced in early 2021, not long after a recording emerged of Mr Trump pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough non-existent votes in his favour to justify decertifying the state’s presidential election results.
She subsequently asked the Fulton County District Court to empanel a special grand jury to investigate Mr Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. That investigation, which wrapped up late last year, saw witnesses from all over the country summoned to give evidence behind closed doors in the Fulton County courthouse. Because special grand juries are not permitted to issue indictments under Georgia law, Ms Willis had to present that grand jury’s findings to a second, regular grand jury which began to meet in July.
Mr Trump, who is also facing criminal charges from a local district attorney in his former home state of New York and set to be tried on Espionage Act and obstruction of justice charges in a Florida federal court next May, had unsuccessfully sought to have Ms Willis blocked from prosecuting him and has asked two Georgia courts to throw out the entire special grand jury proceeding, citing alleged deficiencies in the law providing for special grand juries and Ms Willis’ attendance at Democratic political fundraisers.
Judge McBurney, the Fulton County Superior Court jurist who has been overseeing the proceedings for the last two years, wrote in a ruling issued last month that Mr Trump and a co-plaintiff who was one of the fake electors under investigation had lacked any standing to challenge the investigation in a pre-indictment phase.
“The movants’ asserted ‘injuries’ that would open the doors of the courthouse to their claims are either insufficient or else speculative and unrealized,” he said.
“They are insufficient because, while being subject (or even target) of a highly publicized criminal investigation is likely an unwelcome and unpleasant experience, no court ever has held that that status alone provides a basis for the courts to interfere with or halt the investigation.”
Judge McBurney also called Mr Trump and his co-plantiff’s “professed injuries” from being targets of the investigation “speculative and unrealized” because neither has been indicted as of yet, and the mere possibility of an indictment “not enough to create a controversy, cause an injury, or confer standing”.
Now, with charges against him having been officially approved by a grand jury, Mr Trump could seek to renew the litigation.
But unlike in the two federal cases pending against him, the former president cannot count on regaining the power of the presidency or help from a Republican ally in the Georgia governor’s mansion to protect him.
Unlike many US states, the Peach State does not grand its’ chief executive the authority to issue pardons for crimes committed against the state.
Instead, pardon power is delegated to a nonpartisan board, and it can only be invoked to grant a pardon after a criminal has completed his or her sentence.
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